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By Lillian Rizzo and Maria Armental
A regional television network that broadcasts Denver Nuggets basketball and Colorado Avalanche hockey games sued Comcast Corp., accusing the cable provider of trying to drive it out of business and seize control of the Denver area sports market.
Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, stopped carrying Altitude Sports & Entertainment Aug. 31 after their contract expired and the two companies failed to reach an agreement.
In a complaint filed Monday in Colorado federal court, Altitude, which was created by billionaire Stan Kroenke, accused Comcast of using its control of the market to push it out of business and possibly install its own regional sports network.
Comcast's NBCUniversal owns regional sports networks throughout the country.
In the suit, Altitude alleged Comcast has proposed "dramatic cuts in rates to be paid to Altitude," and its proposals would also require subscribers to pay for a more expensive package to access Altitude.
"Comcast has been making demands in negotiations with Altitude that Comcast knew made no economic sense and would drive Altitude out of business," Altitude said in the lawsuit.
A Comcast spokesman on Monday said the lawsuit is meritless.
Altitude's channel also went dark this fall for subscribers of Dish Network Corp. and AT&T Inc.'s DirecTV, leaving essentially all Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche fans without access to the channel.
Earlier this month, AT&T and Altitude reached a deal. Negotiations with Comcast and Dish have continued.
All three distributors had previously offered between 50% and 70% less to Altitude to carry the channel, Altitude President Matt Hutchings has told The Wall Street Journal.
Comcast, Dish and DirecTV have said they have made offers they believe are fair to their customers.
Regional sports networks like Altitude strike licensing agreements with professional, collegiate and high-school sports teams, leagues and conferences to carry their games.
Pay-TV providers pay fees to the sports channels to carry them on their systems. Over the years, these fees have risen.
In its lawsuit, Altitude said Comcast overcharged customers by including sports fees on monthly bills even though it no longer carries the channel.
In early October, Comcast began issuing refunds to customers, lowering the regional sports network fee from $8 a month to around $6.50.
"Since at this point Altitude has rejected all reasonable offers, we have provided our customers with a credit until we reach an agreement," the Comcast spokesman said.
If Altitude is still no longer available on Comcast by next year, the fee will be permanently adjusted, Comcast said in a letter to the Colorado attorney general earlier this month, reviewed by the Journal.
Regional sports network blackouts are occurring more frequently because of media consolidation, cord-cutting and increasingly pricey contracts with leagues. In Los Angeles, about 60% of households can't watch the Dodgers on TV.
This summer, Dish subscribers in Chicago lost access to regional sports networks, including the soon-to-be-launched exclusive Chicago Cubs network, because of a carriage dispute.
Write to Lillian Rizzo at Lillian.Rizzo@wsj.com and Maria Armental at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 18, 2019 17:53 ET (22:53 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.